Chapter 15 for the Point God was unlike any other campaign in his illustrious career.
From an unexpected and impromptu relocating from Houston, to a never before seen work stoppage due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, then the tipping point of emotions and responsive action taken by the players with the goal of creating a better America, Chris has had his plate full.
However, to whom much is given, much is tested, and no one is better suited to take charge and lead dynamic groups of men through adversity than him.
Chris Paul is the NBAs best leader and has been for years, making his positioning as President of the Players Association a perfect match. In the contexts of guiding the young bucks that this Thunder roster consisted of, tapping into his business and personal partnership with Bob Iger for the use of Disney’s facilities in Orlando, then corralling rightfully disgruntled men of multiple races to come together as one collective voice, the 10-time all star successfully executed all season. While also being the father to two African American children of his own, the title he undoubtedly values most.
It’s almost unfathomable to think he was able to compartmentalize with issues of this magnitude, while still remaining an all-NBA performer on court all season. His 2019-2020 campaign saw him miss just one game (personal reasons due to the loss of the late great Kobe Bryant, rest in honor Mamba) but this is what Paul did in response to a off season that consisted of people trying to write his story for him
Regular Season: 17.6 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.0 rpg, with 1.6 SPG and an eFG of 55% (FG of 49% and 37% from 3)
Playoffs: 21.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 7.4 rpg, with 1.6 spg and an eFG of 56% (FG of 49% and 37% from 3)
These statistics along with the many intangibles he possesses, and how he spearheaded the Thunder to a the 5th seed in the always contentious Western Conference, garnered him yet another top 5 finish in the MVP race in many voters’ estimations. This was one helluva response to the many wrongful aspersions casted upon the 35 year old.
Even more, when it mattered most in close games both in the regular season and in the playoffs, he rose to the occasion time after time. He was Mr. 4th Quarter and reminded those that forgot, that he is one of the clutchest players the league has ever seen.
His season is now over after a game 7 loss that came down to the final second. The journey from a 0.2% chance at the playoffs to the final seconds of game 7 has him as the most covered trade chip in the league going into the off season. Though he is still owed roughly $85 million over the next 2 seasons, his value added to any contender tilts the scale and adds immensely to their title window. By the looks of point guard play and closing ability from a handful of teams, his services would be a big time upgrade.
In this series of posts, I’ll be diving into viable transactions where CP3 could compete for a championship.
Up now, the Los Angeles Clippers
After a disappointing meltdown of epic proportions in the Western Conference Semi’s, the Clippers find themselves in an interesting situation this off-season.
They have six guys who were rostered in the 2019-2020 season that will be free agents, namely Montrezl Harrell. Being such a staple in the identity of the Clippers the past two seasons, and being this season’s Sixth Man of the Year, his value is as high as it’s ever been. It will be interesting whether or not the Clippers can retain him, but he’ll receive offers that will surpass anything the Clippers could put together. Surely a team with cap space will add him to their roster this off-season.
Who’s in: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, Pat Beverly, Ivica Zubac, Rodney McGruder, Landry Shamet, Mfiondu Kabengele, Joakim Noah, Terance Mann, and Amir Coffey.
Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, Mo Harkless, Reggie Jackson, Patrick Patterson, Jonathan Motley, and JaMychal Green who has a $5M player option (likely to opt in).
Their roster is sure to look different next season, and rightfully so, but so will their brain trust. Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue is linked to numerous contenders who have coaching vacancies (Philadelphia and Houston). He’s also linked to the up and coming New Orleans Pelicans. All signs point to him taking on his second head coaching opportunity, and potentially Sam Cassel as well whose name has been in the prospective coaching circle.
All of this to say, change is imminent for the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s warranted as well.
The aforementioned changes are of the variety that could be out of their control.
One of the most effective changes they can pursue proactively, however, is to make a trade. Though they’re limited in trade capital, and even more so in the draft pick department, a trade would be the only way they can add a significant piece. Addition by subtraction.
When they constructed their roster, I had an abundance of questions regarding their offense. Yes they had potentially three 20+ PPG scorers in Leonard, George, and Williams. However who would be setting the table, controlling the pace, and making their offense flow? Patrick Beverly is far from anything more than a defensive irritant who can knock down the occasional three, and Lou Williams is one of the most “score first, second, and third” mentality guys in the league. I knew they’d have a dire need for an offense initiator, more than any other contender. However I thought they’d be able to mask this weakness by playing off of their defense, changing ends in transition with pace. That never came to fruition come the playoffs, and their offense suffered as a direct result. The ball stuck often especially when games were in the balance, and they lacked flow as well as variety. They became very predictable, which as a series goes on, even teams with lackluster defense can game plan for (see their series’ vs Dallas and Denver whose defenses leave much to be desired).
What do the Clippers need to reach their true potential?
A true alpha dog, a leader.. Not someone who talks a lot (which became blatantly misconstrued via lipservice from Morris, Beverly, and even George). A true playmaker (preferably from the lead guard position). Someone experienced who can defend, knock down shots, close games, play pick and roll efficiently, position Leonard/George in their preferred spots for easy baskets (and almost fully relieve them of primary playmaking duties, which would allow them to focus solely on scoring), control tempo, doesn’t mind being the third scoring option on most nights, but can be the first or second scoring option when called upon especially come playoffs. Someone consistent in all of these entities of the game.
Insert the Point God.
Los Angeles receives: Chris Pauland Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City receives: Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly, Rodney McGruder, Ivica Zubac, Terance Mann, and draft compensation to be discussed.
Why do the Clippers do this?
They’ve ridden the Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell tandem til the wheels fell off, and at the biggest moment where it was needed for them to advance, neither showed up. No, Leonard and George are not absolved of their fair share of blame, neither is Doc Rivers. However, their lynchpin and staple has been the scoring of deemed leader, Lou Williams (who Leonard and George openly mentioned they concede to offensively) who is an offense in himself. That, along with Montrezl, whose heart-charging style of play was muted and bottled up by the Nuggets frontcourt, was enough to garner half of the blame for the Clippers historic shortcoming in the Western Conference Semi’s. Cutting ties with Lou Williams seeing that Harrell’s departure is trending towards likely, makes complete sense. Beverlys lack of dependability on offense makes him easily expendable, especially for a talent the likes of Chris Paul. The Clippers would, for all intents and purposes, be receiving everything Beverly and Lou Williams bring to the table plus more, in Chris Paul. An all-time playmaking savant in iso for himself, but even more-so as a table setter for others, and an all-time great defender at the guard position too, along with being one of the clutchest players in the NBA. McGruder, Zubac, and Mann are fillers needed to complete the proposal and worth contemplation. They can be replaced via the mid-level exception and other free agency signings into the cap.
Why do the Thunder accept?
Sam Presti, as I’ve mentioned before, will likely allow Chris to put together a list of teams he’d like to be traded to (if a buyout is not an option). Stop that list should be a reunion with the Los Angeles Clippers. Recently he’s done Paul George a solid, as well as Westbrook via trade. He also did Carmelo Anthony a huge solid in finding a team to trade him to (Atlanta), who agreed they’d buy him out. Aside from Westbrook whose loyalty was repaid, Presti certainly had no reason to do a solid for George or Anthony, who hadn’t had much of any success nor ingratiate themselves in the community there. Paul on the other hand, came in exchange for Westbrook without choice. Reembraced the community as he did to start his career, was all in the entire season, and left lasting mentorship effects on what will end up being the Thunders young core in Gilgeous-Alexander, Bazely, and Dort. Needless to say, if Presti was so easily willing to do so for George and Anthony, the same will go for Paul.
The Thunder, in my opinion, won’t have a typical demand for draft capital in exchange for Paul as they would in an ideal trade scenario. They’ve stockpiled more draft picks than anyone could dream for, so while compensation will be necessary, they won’t be as staunch on that negotiation point. They’d be able to add McGruder and Mann as well as Zubac to their young core moving forward, while reuniting SGA with the guards he started his career with in Williams and Beverly, whose contracts are both coming to an end within a season or two respectively. Both of those two players, along with Schroeder and Adams, can surely net them young talent in return in various packages (like for say Buddy Hield & a young big with potential).
The Clippers after adding CP3 (again)
His 17.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 6.7 APG would be a welcomed addition. His play style would better position Leonard and George into their natural spots on the floor, allowing them to operate a lot more efficiently. The Clippers could even “load manage” Leonard and against any team they’d still have a good chance of winning.
This team would have the best leader in the NBA in their locker room, which especially for them would come with perfect timing and be invaluable. The synergy these three would build would be scary. They could certainly play in transition but where they would be devastating is in the halfcourt, where games are won in the playoffs. They would have 3 players flirting with the 40% mark from three that can all create or catch and shoot at an elite level. Even more, these 3 are all knockdown mid-range shooters. CP3 is one of the best to ever do it from the mid-range (career 48%, was at 51.7% there this season). Leonard is an assassin navigating from the high-post out of triple threat in isolation or as a pick and to ball handler (career 46.4%, was at 44.4% this season). George was a fine 41% from there this season. Not depending solely on the 3-point shot and having 3 different guys that could make it happen from that position would exploit mismatches and ensure a good look even if the clock is winding down.
Defensively, Paul, Leonard and George have never had a season where they registered a negative mark in defensive plus or minus, meaning that their on/off numbers suggest that their teams are always better defensively when they’re on the floor. They have career DBPM averages of 2.3, 2.4, and 1.4 respectively. Imagine being a point guard trying to initiate pick and roll with CP3 guarding you (maybe the best pick and roll guard defender ever, mind you), then having Leonard in the passing lane covering your strong-side option with his defensive prowess, then Paul George lurking backside playing center field in help who can show and recover to the 3-point line or even intercept that errand pass. That’s tough! The deflections and activity they’d have allowing them to change ends and score in transition would be enough to tilt the scale in a playoff series.
They’d have three top 20 players in the NBA. What would be paramount to everything though, would be having two players that are top 10 when it comes to playoff performance. Both Leonard and Paul just have a knack for showing up when their teams need it most. Whether or not their teammates are along for the ride has oftentimes been a struggle, but even then they’ve been able to do enough on both ends to win games they probably shouldn’t have. Greatness. This would be the most invaluable aspect in regards to this team specifically in the playoffs.
Having addressed both guard play, a tertiary scorer who can serve as secondary or primary on a given day, and added a closer all in the same trade, they can focus their efforts on retaining viable talent in free agency around their unparalleled and dynamic big three of Paul, George, and Leonard. Gone would be the days of them being 22nd in assists and having a stagnant offense, especially in closing. They’d have all-NBA offense and all-defense caliber players 1-3 with that big three, along with Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, Terrance Ferguson, Mfiondu Kabengele, Joakim Noah, Terance Mann, and Amir Coffey.
Left to address would be rim protection, supplementary shooting, and viable bodies to fill out the rotation.
Rim protection: Serge Ibaka makes the most sense for them here, and he shouldn’t come at too costly of a price, likely via their MLE. Other options like Dwight Howard, Tristan Thompson, Willie Cauley-Stein (likely to opt out), Mason Plumlee, Robin Lopez should he opt out, or.. whispers Hassan Whiteside?? There are a handful of options that should fit the price range for the Clippers at center. Calling for Jarret Allen is an option as well via trade though they’d be stripped of tradable assets after attaining Paul.
Shooting: Though they have Shamet and their top 3 guys all shoot at a high clip both off the dribble and in the catch and shoot, they’d need a few more bodies that can help space the floor. Jeff Teague or DJ Augustin as back ups to CP3 aren’t bad options and would be relatively inexpensive. Solomon Hill and Marco Belinelli are options as well.
A statement of note!
What can’t be left out of discussion is a negotiated sign and trade with whichever team Montrezl Harrell decides on. Facilitating this could give the Clippers a chance to address either center or adding a shooter, or both. This is a spade that will surely be spoken on when that time comes. For example, if Harrell was to agree to a deal with the The Mavericks around 3 years/$11.5M, I’m sure Jerry West could entice the Mavericks to give them Maxi Kleber.
In Paul’s time with the Clippers, they lacked everything that they have now in defensive wings who have size and can also score both off the catch and create for themselves. In this current rendition with George and Leonard, everything they need is, in turn, what CP3 can produce even on a bad day. The trade makes so much sense, even more so now than ever before considering Williams and Beverly’s lack of presence when compared to Paul’s dominance in these playoffs. Paul and Rivers have spoken numerous times about the reported “rift” they had and how it’s been resolved. They talk somewhat often, even golf together. They also collaborated in masterminding how the players should navigate through the social injustices as a union. So the issue there is non-existent, and just imagine what a feel good story it’d be for CP3 and Doc to bring the Clippers their first ever conference finals appearance, then NBA championship. Breaking the Clippers “curse” and finally opening the skies from the dark cloud that Donald Sterling has left over this franchise, especially after the hell both endured handling that situation in the middle of a highly contentious playoff series with the Warriors (if you haven’t, you should check out their docu series on Quibi titled “Blackballed”). That would signal a true transition from that, with them also moving into their new arena in 2024. Owner Steve Ballmer is a winner with an energy that sometimes exceeds the efforts some of his players give, he’s competitive and has done more than invest in his purchase.
In all, this scenario would be one that allows the Clippers to reload and better themselves in pursuit of reaching their aspirations. It would also allow Chris Paul to contend for that Larry O’Brien trophy that desperately covers. No one “deserves” a ring, but his many efforts (on and off the court) and all he’s endured throughout his career warrant him having more opportunities to contend for the ultimate reward.
This team would be positioned to repeat their regular season efforts where they were 2nd in Offensive Rating and 5th in defensive rating, while also raising their regular season win total. However this move would be made solely for enhanced playoff play. With that in mind, this is what should entice the Clippers most. It’s a championship move.